News from our Kenyan Library Program (with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
By Sarah Jaffe
Our e-reader pilot is off the ground and running in 8 Kenyan libraries! Thousands of children, their families, teachers and adults are benefiting from having access to e-books on Kindle Paperwhites through Project LEAP, and we’ve got the Baseline Report to prove it.
The baseline report for Project LEAP, which stands for “Libraries, E-reading, Activities and Partnership,” and is funded by a generous grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, outlines the needs, characteristics and observed trends among the participating libraries.
You can read the full report here.
The baseline report is the first step towards gathering lessons on e-reader usage through libraries. We’ve already learned a lot working with e-readers in schools across Africa over the past four years, and we know libraries and schools face similar challenges. Both struggle with maintaining relevant and current reading material in their physical collections due to transportation, logistics, and financial constraints that contribute to the lack of availability of paper books and other written materials in sub-Saharan Africa. But libraries face a number of other challenges, including: “poor infrastructure, low levels of digital resource access, lack of funding and the absence of professional development, and training to re-skill public librarians for the 21st century.” (African Libraries Summit.)
There are more lessons and insights in the full report but here are some of the key findings:
1. Librarians and patrons want access to a diverse and large collection of books AND access to technology. The most frequent reason libraries applied for the program was the desire to build patrons’ technological skills, and the second most common reason was to increase the size and variety of their libraries’ collections. And 37% of patrons surveyed requested additional technology programs while 26% requested more content or more varied content. By adding 5,000 additional books to the libraries and introducing new e-reader technology, LEAP is well-situated to address both of these needs.
2. Library users at all pilot sites tend to be school-aged, with patrons under 25 years old being more active users of the libraries than older adults. The libraries, however, do also serve more diverse populations than most of the schools we work in, and given the number of people frequenting the libraries (anywhere from 200 to 100,000 patrons per month), these e-readers have the potential to touch many more hands than those deployed in schools. As such, a variety of reading materials is necessary to meet the needs and interests of as many patrons as possible. To address this, Project LEAP has deployed fewer e-readers per project site, with more content per e-reader: 25 e-readers with 200 titles each, as opposed to 50 e-readers and 100 books each, which is the standard “starter” collection for many of our school projects.
3. Social interaction and public programs that engage patrons are vital program components for connecting with current patrons, and raising awareness about the library and e-reader program for non-patrons. Nearly half of all LEAP patrons surveyed reported attending some public programs at the libraries prior to the start of LEAP, whereas activities are also key for raising community awareness about library services among non-users. Recognizing this, LEAP project managers will develop and propose activities that are relevant to their patrons interests utilizing the e-readers, and Worldreader will set aside funds for the most innovative and promising. These activities may be anything from health education to financial literacy classes to parent-child reading groups, utilizing materials from the e-readers.
Through the implementation of such programs, training on e-reader usage, and the provision of a diverse and relevant set of reading materials, we hope to usher more people through the doors of Project LEAP libraries and to get them excited about using the e-readers and other library services.
Over the next year, we hope to uncover a whole new set of lessons from these libraries, lessons that will ultimately help us expand “Books for All” even further. We can’t wait to share what we learn along the way with you!